Nigeria: Boko Haram, poverty, Jonathan and the game of musical chairs

By IndepthAfrica
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Jul 24th, 2013
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In the Nigeria Economic Report issued by The World Bank in May 2013, the most impoverished state in the country, Jigawa, has a poverty rate of 77.5%. This connotes that out of over 4.3million estimated inhabitants of Jigawa, 3.3million are living below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.

People walk in front of a mosque after a bomb attack in Nigeria's north-eastern city of Maiduguri July 13, 2012. A suicide bomber killed five people at the central mosque in Maiduguri on Friday, the military said, the latest attack in a region plagued by Islamist Boko Haram insurgents. REUTERS/Olatunji Omirin (NIGERIA - Tags: DISASTER RELIGION POLITICS)

People walk in front of a mosque after a bomb attack in Nigeria’s north-eastern city of Maiduguri July 13, 2012. A suicide bomber killed five people at the central mosque in Maiduguri on Friday, the military said, the latest attack in a region plagued by Islamist Boko Haram insurgents. REUTERS/Olatunji Omirin (NIGERIA – Tags: DISASTER RELIGION POLITICS)

In rudimentary terms, 3 out of every 4 people in Jigawa are poverty-stricken. The northern part of the country is the hardest hit by austerity, as the north-east & north-west zones have over 70% poverty rates. Earlier this year, a flurry of news reports purported that the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released figures which held that Sokoto, with a poverty rate of 81.2%, was the poorest state in the country. Dr. Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General of the nation, officially decried the report as a ‘bogus, fictitious, baseless and inciting publication on Sokoto State as the poorest state in Nigeria.’ The actual figures were off-beam, but euphemistic retorts do not negate the fact that there remains a core problem.

Projected estimates of Nigeria’s population by the end of 2013 rest at 170 million; and government parastatals ambivalently claim that between 50% – 60% of the aforementioned figure is spread across northern geo-political zones. Considering that approximately 70% of the resultant figure falls under 35years of age, youths are the bulk of people in those zones living in impecuniosity. Also, considering that poverty and a sense of purposelessness are normally in tandem, these youths unfortunately serve as cannon-fodder for propagandists; and in this case, potential recruits for Boko Haram. In virtually every failed system which faced insurgency, historically speaking, a charismatic leader either put food/material provision in one hand or a gun/weapon in the other, but (most crucial of all) ALWAYS an idea in the mind of followers. The apex goal to be achieved is usually the secession from or demolition of a corrupted old system and establishment of a new system.

Leon Trotsky & Vladimir Lenin, Maximilien Robespierre & the Jacobins, Napoleon Bonaparte, Hugo Chavez, Huey Newton, Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro & Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Shaka Zulu, Malik “Malcolm X” Shabazz, Muammar Gaddafi; as well as Abubakar Shekau and late Mohammed Yusuf of Boko Haram are part of an exceedingly extensive list of revolutionaries the world will not forget anytime soon. The issue of crucial importance is the moral-compass which guides their ideologies. Without taking into account the extensive list of crimes committed by Boko Haram, the blood-letting of people and even children on some occasions cannot be justified. Sheik Sani Haliru and a number of other former Boko Haram militants who abjured their ties to the organisation have given insight into Boko Haram’s modus operandi for recruitment; while also articulating the controversial religious aspect to be considered, as well as the background layer of politics and clandestine political puppeteers.

Boko Haram recruits youths in the age range of 17 and 30; but cases of children in their early teens, paid by the organisation to commit arson on school properties (as well as other crimes), have been reported. The fresh recruits are said to be trained in Mali for between 4-6 months. A number of these recruits have gone through the hardship of the Almajiri system; which no longer serves its purpose in the educational system of northern Nigeria. In recent times, Senate President, David Mark, proposed the idea of banning the Almajiri system, and Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State, among other leaders, was in support. A rationale behind the proposed proscription of the Almajiri system is that it readily provides potential recruits, who are recalcitrant towards various forms of authority and an uncaring society due to poverty exceeding Dickensian levels & severe hardships; for Boko Haram, Ansaru (an offshoot of the former) & other terrorist organisations. In simplistic terms, the Almajiri system raises many ‘rebels with no cause.’

Until recent times, it seemed to the public eye that the Nigerian government, in all its colossal might, was flagrantly defied by a sect; in the paradoxical manner of a heavyweight champion being pummelled senseless by a school-yard bully. But when Dr. Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states, there was standing ovation across most of the nation; and possibly his first since the 2011 elections, taking into account how outraged Nigerians ensured his Facebook page was rarely devoid of curses for most of 2012 – which incidentally set the record for the most insulted president globally – following the sudden hike in fuel price. The Shakespearian adage, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” could not be truer in the President’s case. Many elements make the country ungovernable, and the vox populi which praises and lampoons in one breath scarcely helps matters. Nigeria is a country that requires iron-handed decisions at times; but the aspiration by the decision-makers is that such decisions yield favourable results eventually.

The need for the practical supersedence of democracy, by the suppressing military occupation of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno, is crucial to quell the insurgency on a short-term basis; but two areas of dispute are the funding required and the short-term approach to the long-term dilemma. ₦950 billion was allocated for security in the country’s 2013 budget, yet it remains insufficient to bankroll the North-Eastern military operations. Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, held that no pertinent supplementary budget would be prepared; and Goodluck Jonathan’s solution – approved by the National Assembly – is the detraction from state and local government coffers, which contravenes the system of federalism, yet offers a transient solution to the mire. But the crisis remains a blatant aspect of a much bigger problem that promises recurrence. And instead of adapting the pragmatic approach of force alone, which solves only the acute malady, a more effective two-pronged solution could be implemented. The key component among others, which fuels the insurrection, is poverty. It remains a foundation on which ideologies can be built, as both ideologies & poverty are rooted in the mind before physical manifestations; and jackboots cannot effectively crush an idea. The best way to kill an idea is with a more powerful opposing idea; and true wealth is also rooted in the mind before being made tangible. Focused efforts of Dr. Jonathan should be on inputting such into the minds of the youth in the affected areas for true wealth creation, and the use of force for the insurgency; or there will indefinitely be recurrence and escalation. This is evidenced in the spread of not only Boko Haram, but also Ansaru, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJAO) and even the Ombatse cult.

Ayodeji Obademi predominantly writes on current affairs and societal issues. An erudite alumnus of Portobello College, Ireland and Babcock University, Nigeria, he also specialises in the professional fields of marketing & business development. He can be reached on jayeobademi@yahoo.com

Follow on Twitter: @Dejiobad

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